What types of inventions qualify for patent protection?

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Jeffrey Johnson is a legal writer with a focus on personal injury. He has worked on personal injury and sovereign immunity litigation in addition to experience in family, estate, and criminal law. He earned a J.D. from the University of Baltimore and has worked in legal offices and non-profits in Maryland, Texas, and North Carolina. He has also earned an MFA in screenwriting from Chapman Univer...

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UPDATED: Jul 16, 2021

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Patent protection grants inventors exclusive manufacturing and production rights over their inventions for a statutorily given amount of time. Patent protection does not just apply to household gadgets, but also to chemicals, plants, and manufacturing tools. The type of invention you are patenting determines the amount and length of protection. Unlike copyright, patent protection only protects an invention in the US, so inventors must seek a patent for each country that they wish to do business in. Patents are divided up into three categories: design, plant, and utility.

Design Patents

A design patent is granted for protection of the “visual ornamental characteristics embodied in, or applied to, an article of manufacture.” Design patents can apply to everything from a fashion designer’s latest fabric design to an iPhone skin. Design patents protect everything from, “the configuration or shape of an article, to the surface ornamentation applied to an article, or to the combination of configuration and surface ornamentation.” For more information on design patents, log onto the United States Patent and Trademark Office website.

Plant Patents

A plant patent is granted to inventors who, “invent or discover and asexually reproduced a distinct and new variety of plant, other than a tuber propagated plant or a plant found in an uncultivated state.” Plant patents are granted to inventors such as the inventors for the newest rose bowl parade rose and for those who create new forms of fruit trees. Plant patents last for 20 years and allow the inventor exclusive creation and manufacturing rights of their plant. The only plant type that cannot be patented are plants that produce asexually through tubers or potato-like plants. For more information on plant patents, log onto United States Patent and Trademark Office’s (USPTO) plant patent section.

Utility Patents

Utility patent protection covers the largest range of patent protection. Types of inventions in this category include useful processes, machines, articles of manufacture, and compositions of matter. Patentable useful processes include new ways of achieving an otherwise inefficient process. For instance, in 2004 an inventor discovered a new way to bond color pigments with steel during the steel’s initial curing phase. This useful process eliminated the need for spray painting during manufacture.

Compositions of matter include any form of new matter either chemical or biological. Examples in this category include new pharmaceutical drugs, pesticides, and even some foods. The USPTO website has further information concering utility patents and how to obtain one.

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